When Jevin West read the news rife with number-heavy coverage of both Covid-19 and the election last fall, he kept finding new examples to bring to his class on data literacy and misinformation at the University of Washington.

West, an associate professor, and Professor Carl Bergstrom teach “Calling BS: Data Reasoning in a Digital World” (although the actual course listing uses the more colorful language). Their course covers everything from interpreting data visualizations to understanding publication bias in academic literature to identifying fake news. They’ve never had a shortage of material to work with.

“Almost every day there were things we could put in,” West, an associate professor at the University of Washington, said of the fall. “You have infinite material to pull from in real time.”

Launched in 2017, Calling BS became an instant hit at the University of Washington; it fills its 150-student capacity quickly each year. The curriculum – including YouTube videos of the lectures – is also available for free to any teacher who wants to use it. To date, faculty at more than 100 colleges, including foreign schools, community colleges and Ivy League universities, have reached out about adopting the course in what West describes as a “BS movement.”

“It’s difficult to learn and to trust information if we’re not aware of some of these ways information is manipulated,” West said.

Whether focused on media literacy or data literacy, research suggests a need for this type of education in general. A 2016 study by the Stanford Graduate School of Education found that significant numbers of middle schoolers, high schoolers and college students could not adequately judge the credibility of online information.

A follow up report in 2019 found similarly dismal results. Nearly all high schools students surveyed had “difficulty discerning fact from fiction online” and 96 percent of students failed to question the credibility of an unreliable website.

What’s needed, according to experts, is a focus on media literacy education in classrooms—starting as early as third or fourth grade.

Read the full article about strengthening media literacy by Sarah Butrymowicz and Javeria Salman at The Hechinger Report.